When Travel Blogging Means Business

by Keith Savage · 49 comments


I have a liberal arts degree. I spent my college years reading, writing, dreaming up creative ideas, and finding the best liquor deals around town. I don’t mean to be dismissive – it was an incredible 4.5 years – liberal arts degrees just lend themselves really well to debates on malt/hop ratios (more hops), Speyside vs. Islay (Islay no question), and whether whisky distilleries should have their own malting floor (yes). Add in a love of travel and penchant for technical endeavors (e.g., building computers, learning complex programs, designing this website) and travel blogging jumps to the fore as a hobby right in my wheelhouse. And true to form, I’ve loved blogging these last six months. The creative outlet and community are priceless.

But what happens when you want to elevate that hobby into a business?

The thought has crossed all our minds at one time or another: “how do we make a living out of what makes us happy?” Indeed, this is the quagmire I find myself in, thrashing like a horse in the middle of a lake. While I love the Socratic method of my college days I’d give an arm and a leg right about now to see Socrates figure this one out. You see, I’m tragically ill-equipped to tackle matters of business.

I’ve done my fair share of detective work and the usual suspects line up: SEO, AdSense, affiliate programs, key words, rate cards, subscription fees, static sites, and the list goes on. That’s just scratching the surface of general blog monetization. Travel bloggers, in particular, seem to be an entrepreneurial bunch. David Lee runs Travel Blog Success, Craig Martin has Make Money Travel Blogging up and running, and Matt Kepnes’ ebook on How to Make Money Travel Blogging has been out for a long time. I’m sure there are plenty more examples.

I’ve found plenty of valuable information telling me how to make money, but the resources are lacking when it comes to goal setting and business planning – areas that feel like the very front end of the blogging as business transition. I informally polled my followers on Twitter to see if anyone had put together a business plan for their travel blog. I heard a lot of crickets and a couple like-minded souls seeking the same info. Obviously a horribly unscientific experiment, but it wasn’t exactly the response I was looking for (or expected).

Truth be told, I’m OK with this. It’s just one more affirmation that I’m the right path, the (mostly) untrodden path. Traveling Savage just recently hit its six-month birthday. In those six months I haven’t tried to adhere to any particular plan for content, advertising, or growth. I’ve simply written the type of content I like to read and tried to make a site I like to look at. You might scoff at my lack of direction, and I wouldn’t blame you. For disciples of Mr. Godin, I’m probably thrashing a little too late in the creative process. I suppose my primary subconscious goal during this period was to find out if I liked blogging, if I had a voice, if I had something to say. The answer is ‘yes’ on all accounts.

Since I’ve started looking toward the future, I’ve found a couple of helpful articles on Problogger, including how to create a blogging plan and 5 steps for planning the direction of your blog. I also found a post on thinking about your blog from a fiction standpoint immensely helpful for visualizing – don’t miss it. Right now I’m in the midst of putting together a one-page business plan. It has already proven to be a useful creative exercise and helped me pin down my vision and mission for this blog.

If you don’t have a vision for your blog, don’t sweat it. Maybe you’ve been blogging for fun and now want to turn it into a business. Maybe you’re thinking about starting a blog but hesitating because you haven’t nailed down a solid plan. While this flies in the face of conventional wisdom, I say go for it. Start writing and give yourself time to develop and focus your creativity. It would be a shame if you never started because you couldn’t see the end. If you can build in this period before you need or want to make money, all the better.

I’m no business guru (see above). I can only share what I’ve done with you. Goal setting and business planning mostly just take a lot of thought – there aren’t “right” goals to choose. They will be unique to you and what you want to accomplish. Is my tendency to let things develop organically and thrash late in the game the path to reckless failure? Am I nailing my coffin shut from the inside?

Maybe. But I already see it as the genesis of something special.

Have you created a business plan for your travel blog? Are you playing it by ear and letting the chips fall where they may? Share your tips and secrets!

Original photo by laverrue via Flickr under Creative Commons


Financial SamuraiNo Gravatar June 30, 2010 at 11:55 PM

Hi Keith – You are the perfect candidate to join the Yakezie, and write in the Yakezie Lifestyle vertical.

Once you get below Alex 100,000, you start getting a lot of offers. You should easily be able to make over $1,000/month from you blog once you hit that milestone.

Best,

Sam

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar July 1, 2010 at 9:08 AM

Hey Sam, you’ll need to give me the scoop on the Yakezie Lifestyle vertical.

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WanderingTraderNo Gravatar June 24, 2010 at 10:14 AM

Great article!! Ive actually been pondering the direction for my site as well… couldn’t have said it better myself.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar July 1, 2010 at 9:06 AM

It’s been taking a lot of time – most of it on a subconscious level. I’m letting my more primitive neurological bits tackle the business plan before I bring in the neocortex ๐Ÿ™‚

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PoiNo Gravatar June 24, 2010 at 3:24 AM

We started our blog just see if we enjoyed writing and everything that comes with it and we were amazed with the response we got. While we are not to concerned with the business side of it at the moment I am sure it will come.

My business brain is pretty much non-existant but lucky for my Kirsty more than makes up for me in that area.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar July 1, 2010 at 9:09 AM

Sounds a lot like how I began this blog. I think the key is keeping the blog something you love to do. Don’t let new directions or the injection of “business sense” ruin that.

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Lilliane @wanderlassNo Gravatar June 21, 2010 at 5:14 AM

I’ve been blogging on and off for fun since 2007, but only like 2 weeks ago that i decided i want more readership. I was not even looking into making money, I was looking on how to make more people follow my site. I want people to comment on my blog when I embark on my RTW, so I started digging around. I was stunned with the kind of money problogger makes. w@w!

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar June 21, 2010 at 6:08 PM

Problogger and copyblogger seem to be corner cases. They serve a much broader audience and managed to get ahead of the blogging craze. Kudos to them on an awesome job well done. If you’re looking for readers, it’s all about social media like Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, etc. Good luck, Lilliane!

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pamNo Gravatar June 20, 2010 at 6:50 PM

Keith — I suspect there’s some disingenuous information out there about how much money, exactly, one can make travel blogging. It’s not that hard to make a little bit of money at it, but to make a living at it, that’s another thing entirely. I’ll tell you candidly that during my best month blogging I made about 1ooo USD, I average closer to 200. Now, that’s some nice extra cash, but as a grown up with bills, it’s not something I can live on.

Money aside, I am very aware of is what my blog can do for me in other arenas. It can get me some amazing adventures, it can put some nice gear in my hands, it can be part of something meaningful like Passports with Purpose, it can connect me with super-cool other travelers like yourself. Being a blogger can make me a better writer and photographer, two things I love, and can help me build tech skills that I can sell for real money elsewhere.

I don’t have a business plan for my blog, rather, my blog is part of my business plan. Make sense?

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KelseyNo Gravatar June 21, 2010 at 7:29 AM

I agree with you here. Money can be made, but it is extraordinarily hard to make a living at it. Sure, if you move to someplace like India or Thailand you can earn enough to live decently in those economies, but in the USA or most western countries? Not really.

Like you, I have instead focused on trying to make my blog into something that will help me get more and better work in my field, and hopefully open up opportunities down the road. Ultimately, a good opportunity in my desired field will make me more money than blogging ever would, and would be less stressful as well.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar June 21, 2010 at 6:06 PM

Hi Pam, thanks for the insight. What you say makes sense, and for me blogging is not the end goal. However, I’d be interested to know more about your suspicions. It looks like real, sizable money can be made through blogging. But it’s difficult, maybe not even worth the amount of effort you need to put into it. We shall see. You’ve given me more to think about.

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pamNo Gravatar June 22, 2010 at 1:04 PM

It’s not that I think there’s no money to be made, and yes, I do think you can make sizable money. But here’s an analogy. I have a writing client right now who’s goal is “to go viral”. How do you replicate that? And that’s what you need to be bringing in bank as a blogger. Viral type numbers — and not for a day, but over time.

You need to exist in a space beyond “Whee! My trip is AWESOME!” for that to happen. Don’t get me wrong, “Whee! My trip is AWESOME!” is a joyful place to be. But it’s not a business plan. Why should anyone give me money for what I do on my blog? That’s the question you have to be able to answer.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar June 23, 2010 at 10:01 AM

Some of the mystique of “going viral” is that it’s difficult to predict, even more difficult to orchestrate. But I see your sobering point. This is good advice for anyone looking to switch the tracks of their blog. Thanks Pam.

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ChristineNo Gravatar June 19, 2010 at 10:23 AM

I’m in the same boat as you! All I’ve committed myself to is the first six months sans advertising: I want to focus on building readership and improving content so that I can be a bit pickier when (if!) I choose to utilize advertising. Not sure how I’m going to make my site into a real-life business, but until then, I’ll keep waitressing, living the dream, and writing as much as I can!

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar June 20, 2010 at 6:36 PM

That’s a good plan, Christine. Similar to mine. Keep at it!

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ClaireNo Gravatar June 19, 2010 at 7:10 AM

Call me optimistic, but I started blogging in hopes that I would one day just magically be discovered. Just like that. Well, it’s been over a year so far, and while I have not yet found my path to fame and fortune, I HAVE found something I truly enjoy doing. I don’t know if I have the motivation or knowledge yet to really pursue it as a business though. Good grief, I can’t even figure out how all of these comments above get in that red link to their last blog! Anyone? How do I do that?

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar June 20, 2010 at 6:35 PM

Hi Claire. There’s a saying at my current work place (one of many) that goes, “hope is not a plan.” There’s nothing wrong with it – in fact, it’s what keeps most of us pursuing the things we love – but it rarely gives you what you want. The last blog post appears courtesy of a pluging called comment luv (or cluv).

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ClaireNo Gravatar June 22, 2010 at 1:04 PM

Thanks Keith-I will try it out….now and “hope” that it works out for me!

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Lauren QuinnNo Gravatar June 18, 2010 at 8:02 PM

So it’s a tired cliche, but you know how they say artists/creative folk have no mind for business? This seems to harken back to that.

For me, first and foremost, I’ve gotta be doing it (writing my blog) for the love it. Otherwise it’s just work, and I’ve got enough of that in my life. And it doesn’t seem like much of the stuff I’m into is very marketable. So I have no plan, except wanting to continue to grow as a writer.

You, on the other hand, have a bright future with this stuff. “thrashing like a horse in the middle of a lake” : fuckin a!

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar June 20, 2010 at 6:33 PM

Clichรฉs are clichรฉs for a reason. Sounds like you have a very nice plan. And I agree, there’s gotta be love. I’m feeling it.

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CandiceNo Gravatar June 18, 2010 at 7:54 PM

The problem is I don’t think there IS a business plan…everyone needs to find a way to make their business work for them. Some people, like Matt, just figured it out way ahead of us.

While I find a lot of professional bloggers really do have useful information, I think it’s all about carving our own way too, y’know?

Great post.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar June 20, 2010 at 4:02 PM

Yep, agreed. There doesn’t seem to be a template and we should be happy about that. Though it does make for some sleepless nights and headaches. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Shannon ODNo Gravatar June 18, 2010 at 12:32 PM

You’ve collected some great links here to all of the really pertinent information right now – really useful! Thanks for the roundup! ๐Ÿ™‚

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar June 20, 2010 at 6:31 PM

You’re welcome, Shannon. I hope they’re of use to you!

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SuzyNo Gravatar June 18, 2010 at 5:11 AM

Thanks for the article links here. I, too, am struggling to find information on how to make my site a business. You’re completely right. Most don’t focus on the subject at all.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar June 20, 2010 at 6:30 PM

I’ll continue to share whatever I learn here. Hope others will do the same on their blogs.

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ErinNo Gravatar June 17, 2010 at 2:59 PM

It definitely is hard moving into a business mindset for your blog. We have been taking part in Location Independent’s 12 Week Challenge which walks you through writing a business plan etc. We did do one for Never Ending Voyage, but mainly we are focusing on Simon’s web design business for now. It’s worth having a look: http://locationindependent.com/the-12-week-challenge/

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar June 20, 2010 at 6:29 PM

Cool, thanks for the link Erin!

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CamNo Gravatar June 17, 2010 at 1:34 PM

Great insight. Thanks for the tips and article links! Always good to stop and take a look at why we do things we do, and see if we are actually hitting the goals we’ve set

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar June 20, 2010 at 6:28 PM

Thanks Cam, glad you found this useful. Blogging lends itself well to a business – both require discipline.

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GO! OverseasNo Gravatar June 17, 2010 at 11:41 AM

Very interesting post and I think this is exactly what separates the adults from the kids table when it comes to traveling blogging. But if it wasn’t the challenge that it is, then everybody would be doing it.

I often think back to the advice my photography professor gave me, that in order to be successful you must find a niche and do whatever it takes to become the best in that niche. That way you can’t fail (unless of course you chose a very poor niche, haha).

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar June 20, 2010 at 6:27 PM

Yes, two great points in your comment. Niche is almost everything.

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AudreyNo Gravatar June 17, 2010 at 11:39 AM

This post is timely as I’ve just received my third email of the day offering guest posts for our website written by “experienced travel writers” in return for a link. The deal is that they provide content and use their network to promote the posts on social media, thereby driving more traffic to your site. Sometimes these marketers show where they’ve placed guest posts on other travel blogs as a reference – this sometimes surprises me since I thought some of these blogs were independent and only had personal content. But, then I realized that my judgment is misplaced because it all depends on the goals and vision one has for his/her travel blog and whether it is a personal site or a business.

When we started out with our blog, we knew nothing about blogging and were idealistic about sharing our experiences and learning opportunities from our travels through this online format. Over time, we’ve learned more about the business of travel blogging and moved more into exploring how we can monetize our blog better for a more sustainable income stream to help keep us on the road. There are some things that we still don’t do, but we now are comfortable receiving equipment and gear in exchange for a review and we almost went on a press trip offered to us in exchange for several posts. I think everyone has to come to a balance of what feels right to maintain the personality and original vision for the blog with what may bring in some money and sponsorship to keep the blog alive.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar June 20, 2010 at 6:26 PM

Hi Audrey, I’m really to happy to hear a snippet of the Uncornered Market story. The travel blogging industry feels a bit like the wild west. I get all kinds of unsolicited emails asking to advertise or guest post or trade links. Many of the organizations are simply link farms, a kind of churn and burn page rank building system. If we’re not deliberate or careful with how we respond to these requests, we risk the health of our blogs and travel blogging as a lifestyle/career.

I need to take a closer look at your site and see how you’ve managed to keep going (financially) for so long. I think your content speaks for itself. Quality earns. Keep up the great work!

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AudreyNo Gravatar June 22, 2010 at 7:59 AM

Well, you might be disappointed if you took a look at our site for inspiration on monetizing a blog! We just started taking advertising requests this year and haven’t done a lot of strategic work on improving the passive income from our blog…but we do have lots of ideas and hope to implement some of them later this summer. Most of our income has actually come from non-blog work, but our blog has definitely played a role in getting some of these projects as we use it as a portfolio of sorts for writing, photography and webdesign.

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Globetrooper ToddNo Gravatar June 17, 2010 at 10:44 AM

We need to get together Keith ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m pretty much the opposite: all business, no creative.

With Globetrooper.com, we wanted to find a balance between blogging and business. We knew if we just went aggressively after a business, we’d be hard pressed to find time to actually travel. But we knew if we just travelled and blogged, it may be short-lived if the bank account ran dry. So we decided to launch something that struck a balance.

We’ve got more plans than frequent flier points, but business is fickle. I think there are a lack of resources (other than those you mentioned) because there’s no real recipe to success. Personally, I think it’s the ultimate challenge (to create something that people actually like and will pay for), and the ultimate challenge wouldn’t be ultimate if there was a proven recipe for success.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar June 20, 2010 at 6:20 PM

Maybe we should touch base, Todd. I’m curious to hear the story of Globetrooper’s founding – even the gory details. While it is difficult finding the path to success, I wouldn’t have it any other way. And as you say, success is possible because blogging for a living (or some form of blogging) isn’t easy.

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GlobetrooperToddNo Gravatar June 25, 2010 at 11:43 AM

Willing to spill all Keith… ๐Ÿ™‚ Not sure what travels you have planned, but we’re currently in Montreal, next stop (maybe) Buenos Aires, and then to India for this: http://globetrooper.com/the-great-circular-indian-railway-challenge-2011 (a trip recently created by a guy from the UK). Does that sounds like we’ll cross paths sometime soon?

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GrayNo Gravatar June 17, 2010 at 10:35 AM

I’ll be the first person to admit I don’t really have the chops to write a business plan. (The writing it wouldn’t be a problem, the “is this really going to make money” would be.) But I had a vague idea of what I would do with my blog to make money when I first started out. I was incredibly naive about it all, and it’s all been trial-and-error, with constant course correction. I still don’t make enough money to call it more than a hobby, but just in the process of doing it, you learn. The great thing about a business like this is that it’s got very low overhead. You’re not going to run through your life savings while learning how to create a business of it (like you would with B&M businesses, even if you did have a business plan!). You just need to be persistent and willing to learn. And have another income until the blog makes real money. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar June 17, 2010 at 10:44 AM

What do you do when your primary source of income – let’s call it your “day job” – contractually prevents you from making money from other sources?

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GrayNo Gravatar June 17, 2010 at 1:07 PM

Any job that tries to dictate what you can and cannot do in your off hours is not a job worth having. I mean, good God, that’s got to be unconstitutional.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar June 17, 2010 at 1:19 PM

Well, it’s actually a pretty great job. From their point of view, they want your total dedication because you never know when you’ll be called in for work. The flipside of this stringent requirement is that work environment, benefits, pay, and people are all excellent.

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KelseyNo Gravatar June 17, 2010 at 1:59 PM

That sounds like an illegal non-compete to me.

GrayNo Gravatar June 17, 2010 at 2:17 PM

Keith, EVERY job wants your “total dedication”. The only time they have a right to expect that is when you’re on the clock. When you allow them to tell you what you can and cannot do during your own time, you lose your freedom and become their slave. I would really bristle at that.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar June 17, 2010 at 2:25 PM

The beauty of a salaried position. To be clear, there is nothing slave-like about the job and I have plenty of free time. For the sake of discussion, let’s put this side-discussion to bed.

AdamNo Gravatar June 17, 2010 at 9:58 AM

Great post. I am just starting this as well, and there is just so much to learn as it’s such a new “business.” I think there are lack of business type plans because there have been so few who have actually succeeded in making blogging their career more than just a hobby or some supplemental income.

I am currently working as Nomadic Matt’s intern, which is very exciting because he’s one of those few who have figured it out. My blog has only been live for a little over a month, and I have done nothing yet to try to monetize it. Like you, I’ve read up as much as I can on SEO and adsense and linking and all that fun stuff, and it’s kind of dizzying at times. One reason I haven’t bothered trying to monetize my blog yet is because I want to do it the right way, and I don’t feel I’m educated enough to do it yet. I’m not just looking to make a few quick bucks. I want to make this into a career somehow.

I definitely do not have a business plan, but I do plan on getting one. Maybe it would be a good idea for many of us travel bloggers, especially ones who are just starting out, to get together and brainstorm. I think it would be very beneficial going forward, as we’re really on the ground floor of what is a pretty new way of making a living, and no one really has a tried and true method yet.

Thanks for all the resources you linked here. I’m really looking forward to reading them all. Good luck on your continued success!!

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar June 20, 2010 at 6:18 PM

Hey Adam, very cool that you’re interning for Matt. Hope that goes well for you. It would be interesting to get some travel bloggers together to strategize – a kind of travel bloggers union. Ha!

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